Members of the Blue Ridge Heritage Project’s Greene County steering committee updated the Board of Supervisors on June 14 about its efforts to recognized those forced out of their homes to make way for Shenandoah National Park.
The new project, which will be a stone chimney with a plaque of the names of the families forcibly removed from their homes, also will include educational kiosks to help tell the story of what happened in the late 1930s in Greene County.
“I’m here in support of the Blue Ridge Heritage Project,” said David Roach. “I’m an ancestor of the Roach family off of High Top Mountain — both the east and the west side. We go back, and we’ve contributed to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and so forth, and of course we succumbed to the park land.”
Roach read a letter written to his uncle dated Dec. 19, 1935, explaining that he had to vacate his property by April 1, 1936.
“I don’t think any of you will remember the winter of 1935. The winter of 1935-36 was some of the worst historical weather positions in our country. And this letter was addressed to my uncle Luther, who was born in 1900. I can only surmise that he had petitioned the federal government to stay in the park until the spring,” Roach said.
His uncle lived in Swift Run, what is now known as Swift Run Gap, the ranger entrance to the park, and was in one of 465 other families forced to leave their homes to make room for the park.
“Permit approved was issued primarily to giving you notice that you must move out of the park by April 1 and find a new location and make your move,” Roach read from the letter signed by an official with the U.S. Department of Interior. “You are advised to lose no time to locate a place to which you can move as we do not want the embarrassment of having you evicted from the park.”
Roach noted that Swift Run Gap had a post office, a saw mill and operated as a regular town about three miles down the mountain on the Rockingham County side.
“We are engrossed in trying to get a monument here in Greene County that honors the people in the park and I simply ask you whose embarrassment is it that we are trying to avoid in this?” Roach asked the board. “I think we need the monument.”
Peachy Batten also addressed the supervisors.
“I just wanted to let you know that I do support this so strongly. I am one that they moved off that park down off 810 to the old resettlement in 1938. I was young but I remember it,” she said. “I do support this that we can get a monument so we can recognize those families because my mother and father both were raised at Simmons Gap. The only school my mother ever went to is when the Episcopal Church went through those mountains and taught them. And I do pray that we can get this monument.”
The steering committee presented its plan to the supervisors later in the meeting, asking permission to locate the monument and kiosks on county-owned land next to the administration building on Celt Road.
While the monument will honor the surnames of the families displaced, there were also four churches and four schools in the mountains that were destroyed.
The second location the committee has considered is near Blue Ridge Pottery on U.S. 33, however, the first choice is right in the center of the town of Stanardsville.
Greene County Economic Development and Tourism has pledged $2,000 for the monument. The remaining necessary funds will be from donations from the community, including an upcoming concert by Eddie Deane.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Martin of Stanardsville District asked what the committee would need from the supervisors; he was told a resolution soon would be presented to them allowing for the construction of the monument, as well as requirements and location.
The committee presented the supervisors with a petition of 250 names supporting the project, gathered in two weeks’ time.